You’d be hard-pressed to find a college player goofing off or hitting the beach this summer. We checked in with three players with something to prove in the upcoming season, so we could find out how they’re working toward their goals.
No Flash in the Pan
As a freshman, Spike Albrecht was a seldom-used bench player. Suddenly, in the title game, he was not only in the game against Louisville, but he was on fire. Albrecht played 28 minutes – by far his most of the season – and poured in 17 points on 6 of 9 shooting. A lot of guys could live on that for the rest of their lives, but for Albrecht, it’s not nearly enough.
“I was more upset that we lost and that I couldn’t do anything in the second half to help us win,” Albrecht told NBCSports by phone. “I was kind of bummed out.”
It couldn’t have helped that Kate Upton – subject of a legendary post-game tweet from Albrecht – decided Blake Griffin is more her speed.
We know now that Albrecht isn’t content being a bench-warmer on the court, or in life. Now that it seems like everybody knows his name, Albrecht is working to make sure his game is up to par, despite the fact that John Beilein has Derrick Walton coming in to, presumably, play in front of him.
To read through NBCSports.com’s series on July’s live recruiting period, click here.
“There’s a lot of talented guys on this team,” Albrecht acknowledged. “But I don’t think they’re going to take me lightly, you know? The most important thing at my size is to get stronger and more athletic, then do as much on the court as I can. Make sure my handle is as good as it can be and that my shot is right.”
Albrecht is also doubling up on his classwork, taking philosophy and science in the compressed summer session. Which is not to say that he’s having no fun at all. He kept his head right and his game tight even while he was visiting home.
“It’s nice because me, Glenn Robinson and Mitch McGary are all from Indiana, and we all live within about a half hour of each other, so we were getting together every day, working out and playing games and stuff. It’s great playing with other guys who know what they’re doing so you don’t get hurt or anything.”
Albrecht isn’t all business. He enjoys a good game of golf. But he’s the rare college kid who thinks video games are a waste of time. So, maybe he’s mostly business.
Recovering from Injury
Where Albrecht is attempting to deal with the sudden appearance of the spotlight, one of his Big Ten rivals has the opposite problem. Josh Gasser was a major component at Wisconsin from day one, averaging 34 minutes, 7.6 points, and two assists per game as a freshman in the 2011-12 season. The 6’3″, 190-lb point guard was set to expand on those numbers: Bo Ryan had named him the starting point guard right before Gasser blew out his ACL in October, and was forced to miss the entire season.
“It happened so quick,” Gasser said via telephone. “Everything was going so well, then a second changes everything. It was a mixture of feelings, being pissed off or mad or sad, depressed, whatever. It was tough to deal with, but after a couple of weeks it all sunk in and I decided to rise to the challenge.”
Right after surgery to repair the ligaments, Gasser could only wait for the swelling to go down. Then began the torturous process of taking baby steps. “At first, the worst thing is trying to get your flexion back. Your knee is so stiff you can’t bend it at all. Then as it goes on, there are various exercises that you dislike the most. Conditioning, and trying to get your legs under you because it’s been so long since you’ve run and cut.”
Gasser was told by trainers that his injury would take a full twelve months to heal. Nine months in, he’s re-learning how to run, jump and cut, alongside the mental effort of enduring residual pain and trying not to hurry his body toward the upcoming season. He’s under orders to rest and recuperate in between rehab and workouts, so he’s had time to indulge in the sort of TV marathons the rest of us take for granted.
“I’m on the second season of Friday Night Lights,” Gasser said. “I usually don’t get into series; I just like to watch basketball games and football games. But after the NBA Finals were over, I started that series and now I’m hooked on it.”
Gasser is also taking a summer class, and his rigorous workout regimen allows the Wisconsin native to indulge in a statewide rite of summer – plenty of bratwurst.
“I’m from here, so I eat them pretty often,” Gasser said. “I’m trying to gain some weight back, so it’s not really a problem for me. I’m burning a lot of calories, so whatever I put back in me is fine.”
Filling NBA-sized Shoes
Quite often, players will spend part of the summer months helping out at coaching clinics. Gonzaga’s Sam Dower recently taught the youth of Spokane some of the moves he’s been working on through the warm months. “I’m working on my conditioning, also driving to the basket now that Kelly Olynyk is gone,” he said. “Teams also try to take away my left hand a lot, so I’m working on a counter move getting to that right hand off that left shoulder.”
Dower has big shoes to fill. Olynyk had a breakout season for the Zags last year, his stock rising so high he became the thirteenth pick in the NBA draft. The Canadian big man impressed in the summer league as well, giving Dower a high mark to aim at.
An avid outdoorsman, Dower has enjoyed spending time with David Stockton and other teammates at the Stockton family’s lake house when rare weekend free time comes up. He says Olynyk and Stockton have had some epic Call of Duty sessions, but he personally prefers the NBA2K franchise.
Dower also took in a couple of summer flicks, though he may have wished he hadn’t.
“I saw The Conjuring,” he said, laughing. “It was probably the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t even sleep that night. I definitely recommend it if you like scary films.”
So, pretty much your typical summer for these guys. Food, sun, fun and some elite-level basketball workouts. And they, like the rest of us, can hardly wait until the weather turns cooler, and the action on the court starts up again. That’s when all the work really pays off.
Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.